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Have you been neglecting your joints? Most of us are guilty. However, when age, injury or arthritis threaten the normal use of our bodies, it becomes painfully obvious that we need to take care of our joints.

How? Let us spell it out . . .

Watch your weight. The more you weigh, the more pressure is put on your joints, especially the hips, knees and ankles. Staying (or getting to) a healthy weight will spare the cartilage and synovium that cushion your joints and keep you active and pain-free.

Exercise. Low impact aerobics, swimming, and walking are all great activities that keep you fit and help keep your joints healthy. You should exercise even if you have arthritis, as it can reduce pain and stiffness and help you manage your weight.

Lean muscle. Weight training is good for your joints because it builds the muscles that support your bone structure. Avoid exercises that can put undue pressure on joints, however, such as behind-the-neck lifts and presses. These can cause shoulder injury.

Orthopedist. Arthritis isn’t arthritis isn’t arthritis. If you are having joint pain, inflammation, or loss of range of motion, see your orthopedist, who can properly diagnose and treat you.

Vitamin D. This vitamin helps you absorb calcium, which is necessary for healthy bones and joints. You can get it in supplement form or the old-fashioned way-- from sunshine.

Extend. Sitting on the couch or in front of the computer most of the day is a sure-fire recipe for joint stiffness. Improve your range of motion with regular stretching, and stretch before and after exercising.

Joint replacement. Today’s joint replacement surgery is extremely effective and long-lasting. If damage to a joint is extensive and other treatments aren’t working, your orthopedic surgeon can talk to you about joint replacement.

Opt out. Know your limits. If you cannot run, walk. If an upright bike is too painful, use a recumbent bike. Don’t bend your knees past their limits. Pushing your joints too far can damage them, or damage them further.

Ice. Ice is your friend. To reduce pain and inflammation, apply an ice pack or bag of ice wrapped in a towel for 20 minutes. A frozen bag of peas works, too.

Nutrition. This drumbeat will never let up-- if you want to be healthy, you have to eat right. Calcium for strong bones, protein for the muscles that support them, and, research is showing, Vitamin C and antioxidants for joint health.

Take your medicine. This is especially important if you have rheumatoid arthritis, because, left untreated, this inflammatory disease can spread to other areas of the body. If pain medications aren’t working for you, talk to you doctor.

Stand up straight. Poor posture is bad for your joints, so stop slouching. Your neck, back, hips and knees will all thank you for it.

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